Mitt Romney: I never led the Never Trump movement

Good lord. He really is going to be a Trump lackey in the Senate, isn’t he?

He’s asked in the clip below about having led the Never Trump movement, which he denies. And I suppose that’s fair enough: There was no formal Never Trump “leader.” But Romney, as the reigning GOP nominee and the person who delivered the most scathing anti-Trump speech by a Republican during the 2016 cycle, was the closest thing to one. In fact, I take his denial to be aimed not so much at the claim that he led Never Trumpers as at the idea that he even was a Never Trumper. He wasn’t my choice for nominee, says Mitt, and when I disagree with him I say so. But, he seems to imply, that doesn’t necessarily make one a Never Trumper.

Which is true. Unloading on Trump at length as a “phony” and a “fraud” in a widely watched speech might make you a Never Trumper, though. So might insinuating that Trump is hiding “a bombshell of unusual size” in his tax returns and declaring his refusal to release those returns to be disqualifying. And writing in your wife’s name on Election Day rather than cast a meaningless vote for the man in a state he was destined to win anyway seems almost like the dictionary definition of Never Trumpism, frankly.

Benjy Sarlin’s right that if reporters want to make Romney squirm over his prior anti-Trumpism, there are smarter ways to do it than to ask him if he led the Never Trump movement:

Mitt might counter that he’s been impressed by the more conservative elements of Trump’s presidency, like signing tax cuts into law and putting Gorsuch and Kavanaugh on the Court. But as Sarlin goes on to note, Trump was promising to lower taxes and to nominate conservative judges during the GOP primaries, at the same time Romney was flaying him for being morally and ideologically unfit for office. Did Mitt simply not believe that Trump would follow through on any promises to conservatives? What specifically about the past two years has led him to alter his initial impression of Trump as a person far beneath the dignity of the White House?

Meh. It’s silly to dunk on Romney for being Romney. He’s an admirable person in a thousand different ways but he’s also one of the most famously slippery politicians in America. Romney 1.0 was a moderate Massachusetts Republican seeking to knock off Ted Kennedy; 2.0 was a staunch social conservative appealing to values voters in 2008; 3.0 was the technocratic turnaround artist who would undo Obama’s worst economic policies in 2012; 4.0 was the GOP elder statesman defending movement conservatism from Trumpy populism in 2016; and 5.0 is the Republican junior senator from Utah trying to come to grips with the fact that Trumpy populism has won, however temporarily. (There are probably a half-dozen other iterations of Romney that I missed.) That’s a long, circuitous political journey, with layovers at nearly every point on the right-wing map. All that’s missing is for him to become an anti-war libertarian, which I figure he’ll get around to doing circa 2020.

Point being, he was destined to throw off the Never Trump cloak and assume a new identity sooner or later. Nearly everyone else has!